August 26, 2019

Home at Last. No, really.

We have been waiting for this day for 12 years. Today, at 2pm Kenya time (which means anywhere between 2:30 and 4:30 in general), we are meeting at a local lawyer’s office to prepare documents committing to purchasing the home where I slept last night.

This is not the same home that I have written about before (either time). Even when my patience felt like it was wearing thin in this “forever home”-finding process, I hung onto the thin thread that “God has a plan.” Which, of course, is true.

When I wake this morning, the house is already in full motion. Fires are lit in the outside kitchen – a permanent concrete and timber structure with a tin roof. Inside is a low clay structure containing two cooking holes. On top of each a large wide pan of water is being heated for baths. Inside the kitchen, a pan of milk with tea leaves and cane sugar is boiling atop the charcoal cooker for our morning chai. Leon and Naomi have already been up and milked the cows. The morning sweeping is underway with traditional brooms – which are much more effective than any store bought broom I’ve ever used.

I wander around a bit, taking in the sights and sounds. A stream of birdsong notes fills the air. The roosters whose call nudged me awake earlier are now silent, as are the dogs who spent the night randomly howling.

Looking around, I see a fruit-laden avocado tree, to the left behind the outdoor kitchen. A large 2500 litre water storage tank which captures rainwater from the gutters sits on a raised concrete pad a bit further along the side of the house to my left. As I walk toward the tank, I notice freshly turned earth just to the right of the tank. Within that area small concrete pads, a red-handled water turn off valve and a brass spigot all appear to be fairly new – much like the water lines in the master bedroom, which is serving as my guest room during my visit. Ahead of me, I can see maize (corn) growing; it’s nearly ready for harvest. Looking down the property line, I see the outdoor bathroom building which I later learn contains two toilets and one bathing area. Under the avocado tree there’s a little low grove; a small tan dog is curled up in a tight ball against the crisp morning air. Sound asleep, he is completely oblivious to the chickens pecking the ground around him.

I turn to go back the way I came, alongside the back of the house. Directly in front of me, to the right of the indoor kitchen door I stepped out of, is a smallish wooden door and a window with six or seven horizontal bars. I peer inside the window. In the near corner I spy a box where two chickens are nesting on fertilized eggs. My appearance startles a small black chicken who flies at my face in an attempt to get out through the bars. I step back and allow him to exit amid a flurry of feathers.

I follow the line of the house, turning slightly to my left again. The outdoor kitchen is off my left shoulder now, and directly behind it is an interesting wooden structure about 6×6, with a lower table-like shelf sticking out in the front, with the main square structure consisting of a solid lower shelf and a higher shelf with wood slats that are spaced slightly apart from each other and covered with heavy large-hole wire fencing.” Leon is standing in front of the table area, his hands immersed in one of two large metal bowls. This is the washing area of the kitchen. The lower shelf is where dirty dishes go – which are often cleaned by the wandering chickens. The upper shelf is where clean dishes dry. A very efficient system.

I had noticed a brand new spigot on the indoor kitchen sink, but it’s not hooked up underneath so can’t be used yet. Off to the right is a borehole well, sealed much better than the one at the original house we rented. Leon is using this water to wash the dishes. He washes the dishes in the first bowl on the table,  then uses the second bowl to rinse the dishes. He’s been up for hours already, splitting wood with a small machete, getting the fires starting, milking the cows and cleaning up the dishes from last night’s dinner.

To my immediate right, is the farm truck we helped the family purchase four or five years ago. Coming toward me across the yard I spot George. He gives me a tour of the property, gesturing to show me the property line boundaries for the two plots which total 2.4 acres. Inside the cow shed we can hear the new calf bellowing, eager to join his mother who is grazing outside so he can have her leftover milk.

The chicken shed is attached to the right side of the cow shed. Off the chicken shed door a large area has been fenced off where the chickens can roam and safely eat their “layers mush” before they’re set free to gorge on grubs and kitchen scraps from the yard. The chickens aren’t yet out, so my old friend Mr. Dude (aka Poppy, formerly known as “Scary Dog”) lays close to the chicken coop door. He’s chained in that area all night to make sure no stray dogs or other animals try to get at the chickens. By the sounds of things last night, he is quite the ferocious guard dog.

The moment he spots me, Mr. Dude jumps up, tail wagging, and gets a big dose of Paula-love pets and massages. Guard dog turned to mush. Happens every time he sees me.

As we walk and tour the property, George shares with me “how we came to be on this property rather than that property.” When we left Richard’s property in May, after we discovered serious issues with the house, including an indoor waterfall when the rainy season began, we signed an agreement to lease another 2-acre property (if you’ve been part of The Village Gathering family for the past year you likely read about that house, but I’ll recap briefly).

A man and a woman who are business partners share ownership of a 35 acre property on the west side of Kitale, where Pastor George and Naomi had been living previously. The man had claim to 5 acres of the property but they hadn’t specified which five acres were to be his.

They had agreed to sell off parcels of land, so the woman had entered into an agreement on their behalf to sell a 2 acre plot that included a house with outbuildings, cow troughs, indoor electricity and municipal plumbing on 2 acres of land. Our lease-to-purchase agreement was to rent for a year (which has to be paid upfront) and then submit a land agreement for purchasing the land by the end of August at a fair price of 6,000,000 Ksh (roughly $60,000). This is why I was coming back to Kenya only five months after I’d left.

We had gotten all the property documents, and things appeared to be moving smoothly. Then three weeks before my arrival, when the woman sought the final approval from her business partner to sign off on the agreement, he decided that the five acres he wanted were the ones with the houses already on it, which of course, would fetch him a bigger profit than just empty land and leave his business partner who had engineered the arrangement, empty-handed.

The woman was upset at this turn of events, but since she no know longer owned the property they were leasing, she first offered George the opportunity to purchase a larger parcel of raw land where he could build a house. When he informed her we didn’t have a timeframe that would allow for that, she immediately refunded the remaining balance of the pre-paid rent so he could find something else to buy.

George took the situation into prayer and was guided to speak with a fellow pastor, David, who told him of a home that had been for sale since 2016 which he might be interested in. A doctor and his wife had decided they wanted to live further away from town. So they had purchased a total of 60 acres out in the country and had been steadily building a new home for themselves. The contractors were now within months of finishing and dearly needed to release their current house so they could finish the new home build and move in.

George and David looked at the home together. It had a larger living space, with a sitting room and three bedrooms. The master bedroom was en-suite with a toilet and plumbing for a shower and a sink. Another bathroom with toilet and shower area was in the main hallway. The kitchen had two well-built counters and a stainless steel sink, albeit without running water inside. The electricity and all outlets worked well (one per room as is customary in a Kenyan home, where electricity is considered a luxury). There were the water storage and the borehole I mentioned earlier. The outdoor kitchen, bathroom and outbuildings were all in excellent condition. The front yard boasted a sizable laundry drying structure as well. The yard was fenced, with a wood and wire entrance gate. And the property was nearly a half-acre larger than the previous one we had been ready to buy.

George did all the due diligence, pulling copies of the Land Title and Deed, having a land survey completed and getting the entire property inspected. Only two deal-breakers came up. One was the ceiling of the sitting room, corridor and master bedroom, which was water free, but not in the best shape. The other was the municipal water not being connected to the house. Dr. Biwott and his wife Anne had looked into connecting municipal water to the land and had found the cost would be roughly $2,000. Biwott and Anne were kind enough to agree to let George invest the $2,000 rent refund into having the ceilings replaced, extending the municipal water lines to the house and installing shower piping and new spigots in the bathrooms and kitchen.

They want to meet with us this morning, to see what kind of people we are, and for us to see them. They arrive after I have showered and we have taken our chai and chapati. Dr. Biwott is a tall thick man, who is wearing a floppy army-green hat with his suit. He has worked as a doctor overseeing Laboratory Sciences in Kitale for more than 37 years, according to his LinkedIn profile which I Google on my phone after they leave.

He reminds me so much of my father it’s uncanny. I can tell he’s both sharp and kind. He wants to make sure everyone is benefiting from this sale and he shares that they are a Christian family. This is pretty evident since they’ve brought Pastor David with them! Anne is a a beacon of light. I adore her immediately. Both are authentic and communicative; two qualities I highly value in people.

We make introductions, and then George asks if they would like to hear what we’re suggesting for terms. Biwott had originally wanted 7,800,000 Ksh for the property and George had let him know that 6,000,000 was all the funding we would be able to procure. He agrees, accepts our terms, we pray over the deal and they depart, with all of us planning to meet in town with the Advocate (Kenyan title for attorney) at 2:30pm to draw up the agreement and buy the homestead.

The three-story building’s name, Hussein House, is etched in the white stone above the entrance door The building houses numerous small offices and the doors with their overhead transoms remind me of the sort of buildings you always see in the old private investigator movies, like The Maltese Falcon. Isaac Bungei’s office is on the top floor and there is no elevator. We make our way up the wide stone staircase. I am grateful for the sturdy metal banister which makes the climb easier.

We step inside the office. There’s a thin outer room with a bench along the left wall. At the back of this area, taking up the practically the entire width of the room, a woman sits at a small wooden table which is barely large enough for the computer and printer atop it. On the right side of the room, a single door rests in the middle of the wall.

Low voices reach us from inside, as the previous clients finish up another legal matter. To the right of the office door is a list of all the services this lawyer provides and the starting fees for each. As they depart, Isaac ushers us all into his office. The entire space consists of four chairs, a file cabinet and Isaac’s desk, which is covered with neat stacks of colorful file folders. With a glance, I discern that the colors denote the type of case: estate issues, criminal issues, land agreements and such.

The one extra item in the room is a small table to the left of Isaac, on which is growing a tall avocado plant. Behind Isaac a wall of windows clearly has a part in the thriving nature of the plant. I immediately take a liking to Isaac and mention that you can tell a lot about a man who has a healthy plant in his office.

We lay out the details for the land agreement and Isaac drafts the document. While we wait for his assistant to type it up, Biwott mentions how much he likes Isaac’s plant and tells us he planted the avocado tree I saw in the yard this morning. Isaac then shares with us the story of his avocado tree.

He planted the avocado pit the day he graduated from law school. For the first two years he practiced, as all Kenyan lawyers must, with an experienced lawyer at a law firm. Then, 15 years ago, he opened the office where we find him now. This thriving plant is 17 years old. It’s been well taken care of, and is a symbol of how well he cares for his clients.

The clincher for me is when I ask him if he has experience helping set up foreign NGOs in Kenya. Indeed he does, he says, then adds that it would be less expensive for me to choose a Nairobi attorney, since the set-up requires multiple trips to government offices there, which can be done more efficiently and economically with an in-town attorney.

As we sit there, I stare out the window and notice that the sky on the left side of the windows is the same light gray as the right side – but on the right side the gray is broken into three pieces by two wide red horizontal stripes. It takes me a minute to adjust my perspective and realize on the right I’m looking at the side of a tall building a few blocks away. I take a deep breath to recenter and find myself blurting out “does anyone else suddenly smell fresh-baked bread?” They laugh. The windows are closed, we’re three stories up and there’s not any bakery around for blocks. I dismiss it as another illusion, of the olfactory nature this time.

As the real estate documents are finalized and ready for signatures, they ask Pastor David and I to be the witnesses. We take pictures as everyone is signing. David and I stand back waiting for our turn to sign at the end. I lean toward him and whisper “I feel like we’re officiating at a wedding and they’re signing the marriage certificate!” The whole process has been painless, positive. A great deal of trust exists in the room.

Altogether, we have made it possible for Biwott and Anne to finish building their new home so they can move in, and they have made it possible for Pastor George and Naomi to buy their first home. Biwott shares that the home had been available for sale for three years – and at one time missionaries had come to look at it but had never contacted them again. The right and perfect circumstances had unfolded to make this happen and that fact is not lost on any of us.

We agree to make the call to Colorado to put into motion the wire transfer for the funds financing the mortgage, with The Village Gathering as the mortgage holder. We’ll also wire funds to Isaac to cover the transfer taxes and his fee. Many hugs and pictures later, we’re headed back home to do just that.

I would have never thought to extend the opportunity to donors to give low-interest social impact loans if I hadn’t become friends with Dr. Stephanie Gripne of the Impact Finance Center about 5 years ago. Steph is a brilliant woman who has successfully spearheaded the effort to grow social impact investing in Colorado and now elsewhere. By sharing with me how individuals, family foundations and corporate donors can lend money to non-profit organizations as low-interest loans, she planted the seed to encourage donors to become investors in the very projects they had been guided to charitably support during the past 12 years. Now, they do good AND get their money back with interest.

Thanks to the chance meeting with an old mentor of Pastor George’s on my earlier trip this year, we’ve also put into motion our petition for an R1 visa so George can come to America and speak. We’re also moving forward with getting Naomi hooked up with a nursing agency and preparing to take her NCLEX nursing exam in London so she can work in America for 2-3 years. The income from that will give them lifetime financial security and self-sufficiency.

From the lawyer’s office we head to the grocery store to stock the house with food and pick up some essential items for setting up house. Things like towels, an electric kettle (to heat water more efficiently and with zero pollution), plus treats to celebrate, including strawberries, biscuits, yogurt and Cadbury chocolate bars for everyone. We make one more stop at the butchers to pick up a pound of meat, then another stop to pick up produce and a final stop for more charcoal for cooking dinner.

Between the past few days’ travel, the excitement of today’s events, and the time delay in getting the wires finalized, it’s past 11pm when we sit down for dinner. We are all both famished and exhausted. One by one, sometime after midnight, we drift out of the room and call it a night. Tomorrow is indeed a brand new day.

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